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Writing Your Proposal

The proposal is the main document that is used to assess your application for the PhD. It is a detailed plan of your whole project, based on the information you have now. It is important to bear in mind that before you have done the research, you cannot possibly know everything you will know when you have done the research. So, when you get into the project, you will almost certainly amend your plan as you go. This is normal and expected. However, the proposal document lays out your initial plan, and shows whether you are able to lay out a roadmap for answering your research question in four years and 80-100 thousand words. You should spend substantial time and energy working on your proposal, and you should get your potential supervisor’s opinion on it several times before submitting it.

When writing your proposal, it is important to bear in mind a few key points:

  • A good research proposal includes only the information that is vital and nothing else;
  • Be honest, clear, objective, succinct and realistic in your objectives;
  • If you find yourself making huge or general claims, reconsider whether the evidence you will have will be strong enough to substantiate these claims in full;
  • If you find you are planning to analyse very large amounts of data, question carefully whether you will really have time and space to do this, and whether analysing a carefully identified subset of the data would be just as good or better to answer your research question;
  • Carefully decide who will want to read your research and what they will do with it. The research being “interesting” is certainly not enough;
  • If you are applying for funding, think carefully about why anyone would want to pay you for the research you are proposing to do – ask yourself what benefit they will get from the research;
  • Work out why your research is important and specifically what contribution to knowledge it will make;
  • Think carefully about what humanity will be able to do when you have done your research that it cannot currently do.
  • Avoid research that will only “cast new light” or “offer a fresh interpretation” on something, unless that new perspective will give the reader some additional benefit beyond having another perspective. All research gives a new perspective. So this is not a goal in itself.

There is a proposal form which must be filled out in order to make your full application. You can find the proposal form here. When completing it, be sure to bear in mind the word limits for each section. They are not only upper limits, but a rough guide of how much you should have to say about each aspect of your project. If you find you do not have much to say or are repeating yourself or rambling, it may be the case that you need to revisit your ideas and make sure they are fully researched and developed. If you do not understand what any of the sections is asking you for, do not guess. Do your research first. For example, a data management plan is a specific thing with specific requirements. Your supervisor will be able to advise you.

When drafting the proposal, bear in mind that individuals reviewing your application will often have to read a large number of other proposals and applications. Well-presented and clearly written proposals are more likely to be looked on favourably and stick in the reviewer’s mind. Avoid long, convoluted, vague or confusing titles. Avoid florid or overly long sentences.

Make sure that you acknowledge the authors of ALL publications you use to write your proposal. Failure to do so will be considered as plagiarism. Do not copy word-for-word what an author has said, unless you are quoting them directly and indicating this properly. You may think that the original author has presented the information with the best possible words in the best format. However, it is best to analyse it and re-write it in your own words. If you absolutely have to quote an author ad verbatim, then make sure that you use quotation marks to indicate it. If you plagiarise in your proposal, your reader will often notice, and in many cases will reject you on the basis that you have proven yourself untrustworthy. Plagiarism is considered an academic crime and is not tolerated.

The proposal form is used for both applying for the PhD itself and for the scholarships that are administered by the faculty. In addition, the form is closely modelled on the Irish Research Council’s Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship application form, meaning that it is easy to reuse the proposal to maximise your chances of securing funding.

After you have spent the time you need to write your proposal, and you have worked with your supervisor to edit and polish it, you are ready to apply for the degree. These are the documents you will need to supply in order to make your application:

For this course, you will need to prepare these materials to apply:

Proposal Form

The Proposal Form is available here.
Please follow the instructions above carefully on completing this form

Sample of academic writing

You will require a sample of no more than 2,500 words of your best academic writing in English or Irish.
When we assess your application, we would like to know:

  • that you are able to build a convincing academic argument
  • that you are able to create a logical structure to your argument
  • that you can critically analyse others' options and the evidence you see to create new findings
  • that you have an excellent understanding of the apparatus of academic writing, including referencing, quoting, signposting, and using a bibliography
  • that your command of academic English is very strong

English language proficiency qualifications

Unless you have completed a degree through the medium of English or are a native speaker, you are required to prove your proficiency with the language.
Trinity prefers IELTS, but will accept alternative tests run by international organisations, such as TOEFL (please see table below for further details).


Grade 6.5 (No less than 6.5 in any section)

Certificates are valid for up to three years

Duolingo English Test

Overall score of at least 110/160 with no less than 110 in any category

Certificates must be dated since January 2020


iBT = 88

Certificates are valid for up to three years

Computer based = 230

Paper based = 570

University of Cambridge

180+ with no less than 175 in each skill

Certificates are valid for up to three years

Proficiency Certificate

Grade C or better (CEFR Level C1 or C2)

Advanced Certificate

Grade C or better (CEFR Level C1 or C2)

First Certificate

Grade A (CEFR Level C1)

Pearson Test of English (Academic)

A minimum score of 63 (no less than 59 for any section)

Certificates are valid for up to three years


Degree certificate(s)

You will require the certificates that prove you have completed all the degrees you mention in your application. If you haven’t yet completed one or more of your degrees, you can still apply and supply the details on these when you have them.
In case your certificates are in languages other than English, you will also need to supply certified translations. Trinity parchments are an exception.

Degree transcripts

You will need official transcripts showing all the components you have completed as part of your degree(s).
In case your transcripts are in languages other than English, you will also need to supply certified translations.

Two reference letters

You should ask two people who are not related to you to write letters of reference, recommending you for this course and laying out why you would be a good candidate.

Online application form

Once you have all these materials ready, you are ready to apply. To make your application, visit this page, and locate the correct degree title and month of entry. If you are unsure as to which degree title is correct, you should ask your supervisor. The degree title corresponds with the department your supervisor is in, rather than the subject of your research. This is only an administrative formality. The title does not appear on your final degree certificate.